Free Summer Activities the Whole Family Can Enjoy

Mom and kid on a hike

Getty Images / Halfpoint Images

Kids love summer break. They can cast off restraint, relax, trade in their schoolbooks for video games, and spend their days lounging. What’s not to love?

However, that freedom and lack of restraint come with a price—mostly for parents. Parents have to put a lot of time and effort into finding activities that keep kids’ minds (and bodies) occupied, keep them safe and secure, help them stay out of trouble, and throw a little fun into the mix.

While the number of kids attending summer camp is sure to rise with the decrease in COVID-19 cases, many parents are looking for activities that don’t put a pinch on the wallet. From virtual museum tours to seeing who’s the most skilled in the kitchen, a little creativity and a whole lot of ingenuity can help you find free summer activities for kids.

Go Backyard Camping

Kids love the idea of pitching tents in the backyard and sleeping in the great outdoors.  Add games, your kids’ favorite foods, a beautiful nighttime sky, and a scary story or too, and you’ve got the ultimate camping adventure—all without leaving home.

Check Out the Public Library

Public libraries are filled with activities for kids during the summer. Puppet shows, movies, and of course books full of superhero adventures and magical lands await. Many libraries host summer reading challenges where kids can win prizes. You can also stock up on books to take part in reading challenges from Scholastic, Pizza Hut, Books A Million, and Barnes and Noble, among others.

For most kids, a trip to the library won’t be a hard sell. In 2018, over 70% of kids ages 6 to 17 were moderate or frequent readers; almost 60% love or like reading books for fun.

Host a Family Cooking Night

Who has the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies? Who grills the best burgers? One delicious way to find out is to have a family cooking night. Let everyone create their specialty in the kitchen or on the grill. Even little ones who need supervision can come up with simple recipe ideas that are fun to make, and even more fun to eat.

Have a Family Field Day

An array of outdoor sports and activities, along with a competitive spirit, can make a family field day a time to remember. Grab some hula hoops and see who can last the longest. Pull out some jump ropes to make it a game filled with exercise and endurance. Balancing books while racing, relays, and even keeping a balloon in the air the longest are great field day activities that won’t cost you anything other than the supplies in your house.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can break out the bikes and hit the bike paths as a part of the festivities. A basketball game of kids against parents can also be a time of excitement.

Gaze at the Stars

Whether you’re in the park or on your back deck, enjoying the nighttime beauty by gazing at the stars is a time of wonder. Locate the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and other constellations as the kids receive an astronomy lesson without even realizing it.

There are a number of free apps that can help you track the position of stars, planets, constellations, and satellites. Star Tracker, NASA, SkEye, and Night Sky Guide are just a few of the available options.

Get Paid to Play Video Games

Those words are music to most kids’ ears. Learning that they can get paid for the very activity parents say they do too much of can bring joy to a youngster. Participating in video game tournaments, becoming a Beta tester, and coaching others on how to play are all viable money-making options. Of course, parents will want to vet all potential options to make sure they’re legitimate.

If opportunities to make cash aren’t available, the entire family can still join in on the fun in front of the screen. Many video games have the ability for multiple players.

Go Fly a Kite

Kites come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A summer day with just the right breeze and plenty of space can give you hours of fun. And if you don’t have a kite, you can actually make one out of a garbage bag!

Flying a kite is an activity where a little wind can make a whole lot of fun.

Invest in the Stock Market

TD Bank offers a virtual stock market game where you can learn the ins and outs of investing and increase your understanding of how the stock market works, without risking a dime. Tutorial videos and a user guide provide instruction and information. You can learn as a family, make it an investment competition among friends, or use it as a teaching tool for the kids.

Learn Online

School may not be in session, but learning is always happening with virtual classes. Khan Academy, for example, offers an abundance of free courses for all ages and levels. Kids can take a course on a topic of interest or brush up on their math or grammar skills.

While school-like activities may not immediately elicit cheers from your kids, options like Camp Khan, where kids spend 15 minutes a day learning, leave plenty of time for fun. You can even incentivize their work and reward them for their efforts with their favorite snack or a little TV time.

Make a Time Capsule

This unique activity will pay off both now and in the future. You and the kids pick an item that is important to you or says something about you or your family. It can be from work, school, a photo, or a treasured toy. Take those items and store them all in a container that can withstand the test of time. (Usually, something metal or plastic!) Then bury them in the backyard or place them somewhere safe.

The fun comes in whenever you choose to unearth your time capsule possessions. It can be exciting to look back if you dig it up when the kids are adults. It’s even more fun to let their kids see it and share the capsule unveiling with future generations.

Go on a Nature Hike with a Picnic Lunch

Chances are, there are nature trails, reserves, lakes, and unexplored paths near you. Give your kids a generous slather of sunscreen and bug spray, and head into the great outdoors. Make it a scavenger hunt where the kids try to find the different plants and flowers while on your walk. 

All of that climbing and nature sightseeing can work up an appetite. A picnic lunch, tucked away in a backpack for easy transport, can be a welcome reward for reaching your destination.

Watch an Outdoor Movie

A projector, a screen or a big sheet, a speaker, and some blankets can make for a fantastic movie night. You can pop popcorn, make s’mores, or have other favorite treats while enjoying a family classic on the big screen. If you don’t have a projector, you smartphone can work as a substitution. Your kids may end up enjoying the backyard streamed flick more than going to the movie theatre.

Take a Virtual Tour of Museums and More

Virtual field trips are here to stay after exploding during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown when kids were schooling at home. Your family can experience and enjoy national treasures while sitting on your couch. You can visit the zoo in San Diego or check out the zoo and botanical gardens in Cincinnati. You can also enjoy the fish and other water creatures with remote visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the New England Aquarium, or the Georgia Aquarium.

Landmarks like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of Natural History also offer the ability to view their exhibits online. If you’re interested in traveling internationally, Paris’ famed Louvre, the Vatican museums, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia are exciting online options to expand your horizons.

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2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID data tracker weekly review.

  2. Scholastic. Kids & family reading report: Finding their story, reading to navigate the world.